The Distinguished Gentleman: The Man Behind the Bottle

by Scott Hill

One of the featured bottles in this month’s tasting has a bit of history to it other than the bourbon in the bottle.  The “President’s Choice” bottling by Brown-Forman was a specialty product bottled in the late 1950’s to early 1970’s.  It was a single barrel bourbon hand selected by the Master Distiller.  In its early years (like our bottling), it was not a public release.  Instead, it was a private selection only for “Distinguished Gentlemen” who worked for or with the distillery or who had some other distillery connection.  Our bottle prominently features the name of one such distinguished gentlemen, “M.H. W. Ritchie.”  We thought it would be interesting to learn a bit more of the man that made this bottle possible.

Montgomery Harrison Wadsworth Ritchie (December 2, 1910 – July 19, 1999), known as “M.H. W. Ritchie” or Montie Ritchie, was a noted cattle rancher and businessman in Texas during much of the 20th century.   He was the manager of his family-owned JA Ranch in the Texas panhandle.  JA Ranch was founded in part by Charles Goodnight (who, incidentally,  has a whiskey named after him).

Monte Ritchie is credited with reviving the JA Ranch following the great depression and the drought of the 1930’s, after he hostilely took control over the ranch from family members. He was able to revive the ranch strictly with cattle operations, with no oil or natural gas production (which still holds true today).   JA Ranch is the oldest privately owned ranch in the Texas Panhandle.  The ranch peaked at nearly 1,300,000 acres.

More on Ritchie’s efforts at reviving the ranch can be found here:  http://www.ranches.org/ja_ranch_and_montie_ritchie.html

Ritchie served in the U.S. Navy during WWII, after renouncing his (dual) British citizenship.  He was able to keep control over the business during that time.  Following the war, Ritchie continued cattle operations, but undertook outside business opportunities, including banking and serving as director of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

Ritchie was married (Elizabeth) following the War.  Together they had one daughter.  Elizabeth died when his daughter was a child.  He would later remarry a Colorado ranch woman.

Ritchie was an avid photographer and impressionist painter (watercolors). His art led him to art collection.  He amassed a sizeable and valuable collection.  In the 1970’s, much of his collection was stolen, to be recovered days later.  As a result, Ritchie divested himself of the art, creating a sizeable trust to hold the assets.

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